On Monday I mentioned a CNN poll that showed Texas Gov. Rick Perry shooting up five points to a statistical dead heat in the pre-2016 presidential primary polling. Then a Fox News poll came out also reflecting Perry’s improvement, going from 5 percent in April to 12 percent now. He seems to have crossed a barrier from punch line to legitimate contender, although there are any months to go before donors will commit and anyone announces a presidential run.
It is worth looking at what he is doing right that has contributed to his comeback. Here are 10 things other GOP candidates could learn from:
1. Do something. There is so much empty rhetoric these days that when someone in charge actually does something (like send National Guard troops to the border) people take notice. That’s one benefit of being a governor.
2. Forget political theory. Perry isn’t talking about a “liberal” debacle and a “GOP” response. He’s simply pointing to a mess and proposing fixes, leaving the labels to others. Even within the GOP, this gains points. Voters are jaded and bored by the “I’m the most conservative” jawboning. They, too, are looking for solutions to messes.
3. Perry is talking about real problems. An immigration debacle and a cratering national security policy are not gimmicks (impeachment!) or items on a stale check list (tax reform, balanced budgets . . . zzzz).
4. Perry has the benefit of being right. On immigration, he specifically warned the White House of the crisis. On foreign policy, he’s been challenging the Obama retrenchment policy since 2012. Having been the voice of reason in the past sure helps give one current credibility.
5. Perry did his homework. He’s been dealing with border issues since he became governor. On foreign policy he’s been consulting with experts, traveling and spending time to develop some expertise. You can’t distinguish yourself if you know only as much and parrot the same catch phrases as your opponents.
6. Perry has been accessible to the media. He’s talked to Right Turn, plenty of other print and online outlets and gone on the daily and Sunday news shows. He’s generally been candid and knowledgeable, even self-effacing. You can’t win people over if you hide from audiences and just rely on scripted material.
7. Perry knows voters are forgiving. The media is quick to disqualify people and fixed on the past. But most voters will listen to what a candidate says and does now, especially if the candidate is humble about past failures.
8. Perry faces low expectations. When voter expect a pratfall, simply walking across a stage can be impressive. Conversely, since so many voters and certainly the media expect Hillary Clinton to sound like the smartest woman on the planet, her banal and boring material draws tough criticism.
9. Perry is more likeable than he was. The glasses make him look professorial. The candor about his 2012 belly flop is endearing. And a lot less Texas swagger is becoming.
10. Perry has learned to short-circuit problems. He “stepped in it,” as he put it, when talking about homosexuality, admitted error and moved on. Instead of letting the media swarm build, he nipped it in the bud. Everyone running is going to have missteps; the test is whether they can regain footing becoming doing damage to their prospects.
There is no way of telling whether Perry’s recovery will continue, but at least in the short term he’s figured out that these days voters want an informed, mature and action-oriented candidate. If others want to be taken seriously they’ll figure out how to move into the realm of “credible presidential candidates.” In many cases that means doing things a lot differently than they’ve done them in the past.